Photographer Vincent J. Musi chose almost two years ago to end his years of travel for National Geographic assignments to be home with his wife, Callie, and his then 16-year-old son, Hunter. He built “The Unleashed Studio” in the back of a pet food store and began making extraordinary portraits of our furry best friends in Charleston, S.C.
Encouraged by his family, Musi began writing stories about the animals he photographed, assigning personalities to each dog on his wildly popular Instagram feed, which has well over 300,000 followers. He responds individually to every person who writes him a note or direct messages him. His favorite message was one that said, “I wish I were a dog, so you could photograph me.”
Meet the dogs, some of whom traveled hundreds or thousands of miles, to be in front of Musi and his cameras. But for him, being with his family and these pups provided a chance to start anew and to love photography again.
Mary Anne, 3, probable love child of a boxer and a Staffordshire bull terrier
She’s sturdy and athletic with a no-nonsense personality, much like her owner Daniel. Hailing from a shelter in Greenville, S.C., Mary Anne is from “off,” as the locals might say. She’s an upstate dog with a negligible accent.
Tough Guy, 4, greyhound
In his racing career, this dog lost far more than he won. He was terrible. But what if he was throwing his races all along? I raised this question and he responded diplomatically, with apologies to all who bet on him and lost. In his new career as family pet he enjoys a life of leisure, where he never finishes last.
Harry, 2, standard poodle
I addressed him as Sir. There is an awe usually reserved for royalty that I express for a dog that can maintain a flawless blue steel, scratch himself and remain really, really, really ridiculously good-looking all at once. Once you get to know a famous dog you realize they are a regular dog, just like the rest of us.
Luka, 3, Great Dane
She is very famous, ranking somewhere up there with Lassie and Toto on the canine celebrity scale. Fame has not gone to Luka’s head, although it’s rumored she is endorsing a line of plus-size dog collars and recording a duet with Tony Bennett. People love Luka. Visitors often gather to lay hands on her in the same way that tourists rub the toe of a famous sculpture.
Bruiser, 4, Chihuahua
Bru is an engaging lad in a very strong relationship with one human, and has spent the past few years working as her personal life coach. He’s considered to be a greatest-of-all-time kind of dog and has done more good in that regard than his three-pound frame should allow for.
Tipper, 4, mutt
She has aspirations of space flight. But she needs no spacesuit or even a rocket, as her propulsion system is internal, highly efficient and runs on dog treats. In what was planned as a simulated launch sequence, a premature firing of Tipper’s solid rocket fuel booster occurred on a final round of go/no-go checks. At approximately T-minus nine minutes and counting, Tipper ignited and we had liftoff.
Drifter, 4, Cane Corso
He’s like the “Big Lebowski” of dogs, the “Dude.” When only using two of his legs, he stands well over six feet tall. In his adopted state of West Virginia, almost heaven, country roads take Drifter away from home when he scales his six-foot-high perimeter fence and makes his way to a local pub.
Peetrie, 7, toy poodle
Depending on which way the wind is blowing, Peetrie sports a tiny tuft-like collection of hair. I don’t know what to call the style, except Troll Dog. He came into the studio with a local bulldog, who is in the music business and something of a big deal, but he stole the show.
Bear, 4, Saint Bernard
He was found roaming the streets with a twisted stomach and a couple of bullets in him. In another town, a woman struggled to break free from depression and anxiety. She needed help and the dog needed her. And as Bear’s physical and mental scars healed, so did hers. They rescued each other.
Roy Boy McCall, 14, English Labrador
This is the last time I photographed Roy. He was the constant companion of a dear friend, and could always be found running navigation from the cockpit of a 1979 Ford F-100 pickup. His love for hot dogs was insatiable. He loved the beach and the crash of the surf. He is missed.
Photographs and captions by Vincent J. Musi from Chronicle Books 2019